Monthly Archives: February 2009

On Board the OSV BOLD: Sunset on the Puerto Rico Survey

For more than a month, EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold is studying the health of the waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EPA scientists and non-scientists will blog about their research and what it’s like to live and work at sea.

Feb. 21, 2009 – 6 p.m. (Day 13)

About the Author: Doug Pabst is the chief scientist for the OSV BOLD’s Puerto Rico voyage. He leads the dredging, sediments and oceans team in EPA Region 2, comprising New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

We left Mayaguez yesterday at 6:00 a.m. and headed back to La Parguera to finish the sediment sampling, but the weather was too rough for small boat operations. The combination of the Trade Winds (Trades) and local thermal winds was producing rough seas and winds in excess of 25 knots (29 miles per hour).

The Trades are easterly flowing winds found in the tropics and get their name because of their importance to18th century England’s trade route crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Thermal winds are caused by the sun heating the air causing it to move fast and in some cases furiously. The combination of Trades and thermals made our sampling very difficult as we can only sample during the day with our small boats. Weather was our main obstacle for the survey and seemed to challenge us at every turn.

By 7:30 a.m. today, the Trades and thermal winds had diminished down to less than 10 knots (12 miles per hour). Our two small boats continued working until 9:30 a.m., when the winds picked up to 25 knots (29 miles per hour). Conditions were difficult and we were only able to collect a few more samples. We returned to the OSV BOLD to retrieve the small boats. We left anchor at noon and headed back to the “barn” (the home port of operations) in San Juan. As we left, winds were gusting over 40 knots (46 miles per hour). It’s frustrating when we are unable to achieve all our objectives, but the weather is one variable that is well beyond our control.

Our attention now focuses on de-mobilizing from our two week mission. We’re packing up our sampling equipment, supplies, and samples so they can be shipped back to our base of operations in New Jersey. It’s time to process the information we collected. We achieved most of our objectives, formed new partnerships, and return with high quality data. As the sun sets on our mission, it will rise over the next phase of the OSV BOLD’s Caribbean Mission with a new survey team beginning on February 23 in the Virgin Islands.

image of sunset over waterIt’s hard to say goodbye to paradise, but I leave with the satisfaction that we have collected information that will provide for the further protection of Puerto Rico’s environment for many more sunrises and sunsets.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Community Service Projects

About the author: Amanda Sweda joined EPA’s Office of Environmental Information in 2001 and develops policy development for web related issues and serves on the Environmental Education Web Workgroup. Amanda is a former Social Studies and Deaf Education teacher and is married to a math teacher so education is an important topic in their home.

My 20 year high school reunion is this summer so I’ve been reconnecting with old friends, looking at my yearbook, and thinking about my high school days (yeah Class of 1989!). In some respects I am sure high school hasn’t changed much since I was in school – homework (too much), worrying about what to wear and my hair, thinking about the future (ranging from college to the prom)…that sort of thing. But some things have really changed. In 1989, we didn’t have e-mail, cell phones with text messaging, or even the Internet to help us with our research and homework! Now before you start thinking I am really old – we did have computers. I used the computer to write my papers for school but I could turn in a handwritten copy if necessary. Another difference – there is more focus on community service now – sure we did things for our community but nothing like the current generation’s commitment to service. So when I was thinking back to my school days, I was wondering what I would have done for community service in my small hometown of Rockwall, Texas. Back then, I don’t know where I would have started with coming up with ideas for making the environment better. For the past seven years, I have worked for EPA and try to do as much as I can at home and at work to make a difference in the environment…I only wish I could have used what I know now to help make a difference back in school in my community and the environment….

If you are looking for a potential community service project, sometimes the best place to start is with an issue or concern (or a potential one) in your community. Read your community’s newspaper (or web site), check out what the hot topics are in the town meetings, and take a look at the Community Service Projects page on EPA’s High School Web site. You can also check out “In Your Neighborhood” links to find resources about watersheds, air quality, ecological footprints, and if you’re not sure where to start – just plug your zip code into the Zip Code Search and see what comes up. Every community is different because of its history, geography, culture, etc. What you care about may be different from what I care about for lots of reasons so find something that matters to you. No matter what you do – enjoy your time in high school.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Put an End to Junk Mail

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Recently, when I came home from work, I found my mailbox full of envelopes, magazines, brochures, ads, you name it—mostly unsolicited mail. What really bugs me is that all too often the important items (bills, letters, subscriptions) risk being lost in the pile of bulk mail. When you come to think about it, most of the time, the mail we receive is unsolicited and we clearly can live without. So that got me to thinking, how much paper is used to produce that unsolicited mail? How many trees have to die to produce this mail? What are some of the other environmental impacts? Water used in paper processing? Carbon dioxide released into the air to transport these unwanted items? How much actually ends in our landfills?

The statistics are quite alarming. More than 4 million tons of junk mail are produced yearly. Over 50 percent of this unsolicited mail ends up in landfills annually. While the quantity of paper waste seems overwhelming, there are things we can do to put a stop to these unwanted deliveries. For example, there are various websites where you can register in order not to receive unsolicited advertising mail and to prevent advertisers from sharing your name and address with similar companies.

Furthermore, there are other steps we can take to reduce paper usage and economic costs of bulk mailings. How about using technology? You can use the Internet to check out company ads electronically. You can bookmark your favorite Web sites instead of printing them. Use scrap paper for drafts or note paper. And if efforts to reduce waste at the source fail, let’s recycle! Please visit our website for some useful tips.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Hay que eliminar la correspondencia basura

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

Recientemente, cuando regresé a la casa al final de la jornada laboral, encontré el buzón lleno de sobres, revistas, folletos, anuncios y papeles—la mayoría era correspondencia que yo no había solicitado. Lo que más me molesta es que con demasiada frecuencia, los artículos realmente importantes (facturas, cartas, suscripciones) podrían perderse entre la estiba de correspondencia no deseada. Cuando uno lo piensa realmente, podríamos prescindir de dicha correspondencia basura que no hemos solicitado. Me puse a pensar, cuánto papel se utiliza para producir esa correspondencia no solicitada? ¿Cuántos árboles han tenido que morir para producir esta correspondencia? ¿Cuáles son algunos de los impactos ambientales? ¿Cuánta agua se utiliza para procesar el papel? ¿Cuánto dióxido de carbono se ha emitido al aire para transportar los artículos no deseados? ¿Después de enviado, cuánto termina en los vertederos municipales?

Las estadísticas son alarmantes. Más de cuatro millón de toneladas de correspondencia basura son producidas anualmente. Más del cincuenta por ciento de esta correspondencia no solicitada llena los rellenos sanitarios anualmente. Mientras que la cantidad de desechos de papel parece abrumadora, hay medidas que podemos tomar para frenar la entrega de estos artículos. Por ejemplo, existen varios sitios Web donde usted se puede registrar a fin de no recibir esta correspondencia publicitaria no solicitada y prevenir que los anunciantes compartan su nombre y dirección con compañías similares.

Asimismo, hay otros pasos a seguir para reducir el consumo de artículos de papel y costos económicos de los envíos en volumen. ¿Por qué no recurrir a la tecnología? Navegue en el Internet para ver los anuncios publicitarios de las compañías electrónicamente. Marque esas páginas como sus sitios favoritos en lugar de imprimir los anuncios. Puede usar algunos de estos papeles como borrador o para apuntes. Si los esfuerzos por reducir los desechos en la fuente puntual de origen fallan, entonces recíclelos. Para más consejos útiles en inglés o español visite nuestra página Web.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: Underwater Science

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

About the author: Bill Fisher has worked with EPA’s Office of Research and Development for 18 years. His academic research included environmental studies of several marine invertebrates, including lobsters, crabs, squid and oysters. For the last five years he has worked to improve environmental protection of U.S. coral reefs.

This will be our third survey of coral reefs in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). The first was in St. Croix where we verified that a new EPA bioassessment method could identify adverse effects of human activity on coral reefs. The next year we applied an Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP) ‘probability-survey’ method to determine the condition of reefs island-wide. And now, another year later, we will perform the same survey at St. Thomas and St. John.

It may seem a long time to complete a study, but coral reef research has many challenges—not the least of which is a suitable ship to work from. EPA has a well-equipped research ship, the Ocean Survey Vessel BOLD. She not only provides us berth and board, but has compressors to fill our SCUBA tanks and dive boats that we deploy to our sampling locations. The OSV BOLD is in great demand, so it is fortunate that we are able to work from her even once a year.

The survey itself is not complicated—especially if you were to run it on dry ground. The coral surveyor identifies each coral colony in a 25 square meter transect, measures their size and estimates the percent of live tissue. (Corals are clonal organisms, and colonies can suffer large losses of living tissue without dying). Under water, these observations are more difficult because the surveyor has to maneuver in currents and surge. What’s important is that these three basic underwater observations provide several indicators highly relevant to resource management.

We usually field three dive teams and each surveys two to three stations a day. All too often, it is too windy or there are high rollers (waves) that pose hazards getting in and out of small boats with dive gear. On these days we usually catch up entering data, checking gear and reading emails.

Our ultimate purpose in USVI is to assist in the development of coral reef biocriteria. These are water quality standards developed from indicators of coral condition. The first survey we ran told us that we could use the new bioassessment procedures, and the latter two will establish the baseline condition for coral reefs. USVI will use this baseline condition to establish expectations for reef health in the future.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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On Board the OSV BOLD: Transition

For more than a month, EPA’s Ocean Survey Vessel (OSV) Bold is studying the health of the waters around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. EPA scientists and non-scientists will blog about their research and what it’s like to live and work at sea.

About the author: Charles LoBue serves as the chief scientist and diver for the US Virgin Island leg of the OSV BOLD voyage. He is an environmental scientist in EPA Region 2 in New York City.

Feb. 23, 2009 – 3:00 pm (Day 15)

As the Puerto Rico leg of the OSV BOLD’s survey winds down, the U.S. Virgin Islands leg is beginning. We’re staffed, equipped and ready to begin a nearly three-week survey to assess the condition of coral reefs around St. Thomas and St. John. We’ve reassembled this experienced team of divers and scientists to resume the work that began in 2006. Back then, EPA worked with V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) in St. Croix to initiate an inventive new coral monitoring program developed by EPA’s Office of Research and Development. Our team will include divers from EPA, DPNR, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and The Nature Conservancy.image of side of ship with people on deck

The waters that we are working in this year are new to us, which adds an element of adventure. Our plan is to perform strategic observations and measurements of corals and other biota at 60 stations around the islands. Water and sediment sampling will add to the mix. Each morning, we will assign dive teams to three small boats, which will be dispatched to different observation stations.

image of diver examining coral underwaterHere’s the basic process once we’re in the water. When a dive team arrives at a station, a snorkel reconnaissance is performed to assess whether the site has suitable coral cover. The team then enters the water and lays a 25-meter transect line to mark the domain of the observations. The team then makes a general assessment of the cover types, measures topography, counts other invertebrate species, and collects sediment and water samples throughout the transect area. Coral experts will identify every hard coral colony encountered within a meter of the transect line, measure its dimensions, and judge how much of it is thriving.

image of scientists examining data in the on-board labWhen the team returns to the OSV BOLD, data are entered into a computer for analyses and water samples are processed. This will go on for the duration of the survey.

Sure it may seem to be a cookie-cutter process, but the best laid plans are always at the mercy of the weather and sea condition. Of course, underlying all this field work is the logistics and procedures needed to maintain to safe diving operations. Our challenge is to find and assess 60 suitable stations over some 50 some-odd miles of coast around the two islands and assorted cays. So here’s to blue skies, calm seas, and healthy coral.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Climate for Action: New Uses for Used Coffee Grounds

About the Author:  Loreal Crumbley, a senior at George Mason University, is an intern with EPA’s Environmental Education Division through EPA’s Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP).

Many of you may be looking for effective green tips.  One tip I can offer you is to recycle used coffee grounds. Coffee mixed with soil can be used as a natural fertilizer. Used coffee grounds provide gardens with an abundant source of nutrition. Recycling coffee grounds is not only beneficial for gardeners but it helps in reducing the amount of waste going into landfills. When coffee grounds are dumped into landfills they create methane, which is a greenhouse gas. Methane is known to be more harmful than carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas that causes global warming. If we are able to keep coffee grounds out of landfills we’ll be one step closer to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions.

Coffee grounds contain a high amount of nitrogen. When scattered across soil before rain or watering they will slowly release nitrogen into the soil. When compost is mixed with coffee grounds it causes the soil temperature to rise and stay hot for long periods of time. The high temperature kills weeds and will allow your garden to flourish beautifully. Coffee grounds are acidic, which benefits “acid loving” plants.  For instance roses, camellias, blueberries, and azaleas all flourish when sprinkled with coffee grounds.

Recycling coffee grounds also helps to feed worms, and keeps troublesome insects away. Earthworms love to feed on used coffee grounds; it helps them grow and reproduce. Having lots of worms is an excellent way to keep a healthy garden. It is important to have worm activity in your soil; this mixes the soil and helps in mineralizing your vegetation. As you all know the odor of coffee is very strong, the odor can sometimes be too strong for humans. In the case of insects like ants, slugs, and snails the odor works as a repellant.

There are many places you can find used coffee grounds. Some good suggestions include local coffee shops, gas stations, schools, or your workplace. You could ask coffee vendors to save coffee grounds for you, and coordinate a time to stop by and pick up your “green fertilizer.”

Other uses for coffee grounds:

  1. Can be used to dye paper or clothes
  2. Can retouch furniture
  3. Can be used as flea repellant, rub on pets (dog, etc.)
  4. Can repel odors around the home
  5. Can be used when cleaning grease

Learn more about recycling used coffee grounds, and remember recycling is one way we can keep our environment natural and beautiful!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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On Board the OSV BOLD: A Science Lesson, Outside the Classroom

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

February 20, 2009 – 8:20 am (Day 12)

In a previous blog titled “52 Ways to Save the Environment, Part II”, I suggested teachers and educators to take their lesson outside of the classroom to put their students in direct contact with nature. Yesterday, around 550 people, including nearly 30 teachers and many students, from the western side of the island came to have a science lesson outside of the classroom during EPA’s Open Ship event in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

image of teens surrounding testing equipmentStudents learned about the ship’s layout and latest technology, and had the opportunity to ask scientists, EPA personnel from the San Juan Office, and University of Puerto Rico professor’s questions. All of us gladly shared our knowledge and experiences and spoke about life aboard the Bold, as well as many of our every day duties as environmental protection professionals.

I wish I had had the opportunity when I was growing up that these students were given yesterday. Science is fascinating even when taught from a book, but it really comes alive when you can see it in action. In most environmental science careers, people get to bring together science and creativity to work towards a greater good, protecting ecosystems and people’s health.

I hope that many of the students that participated in the Open Ship yesterday get a new perspective on science and with our shared experiences pursue a career in the environmental protection field.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Question of the Week: How has your community used smart growth for environment-friendly development?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Communities grow to meet demand for homes, schools, shopping, offices, roads, and everything else. But community growth can affect the environment due to increases in traffic, energy and utilities, waste, and more.

How has your community used smart growth for environment-friendly development?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Pregunta de la semana: ¿Su comunidad ha usado el crecimiento inteligente para un desarrollo beneficioso para el medio ambiente?

En español: Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

Las comunidades crecen para cumplir con las demandas de hogares, escuelas, centros comerciales, oficinals, carreteras y todo lo demás.  Sin embargo, el crecimiento comunitario puede afectar el medio ambiente debido a aumentos en el tráfico, energía y servicios públicos, desechos y más.

¿Su comunidad ha usado el crecimiento inteligente para un desarrollo beneficioso para el medio ambiente?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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